Fabrics printed with sublimation inkjet technology make up a fast-growing and lucrative market within the wide-format-graphics industry. From trade-show displays and banners to upholstery and architectural graphics, you’ll find dye-sublimation prints hanging around everywhere. This overview looks at equipment and ink options for dye-sublimation printing and how you can use the technology to produce unique graphics for a variety of applications.
By Lori Leaman
“Image detail is highly dependent on the materials and the process used,” Cousino says. “The best dye-sublimation quality typically is achieved printing to a high-release transfer paper, where the surface coating holds the ink drops without bleeding out. A fabric with a very tight, fine weave, such as sanded polyester is then required to keep the quality. Finally, the heat press used must be capable of maintaining consistent heat and pressure to prevent tiger striping, which is produced when an area of the print is not in contact with the heat element and the sublimation gases escape.”
Cousino adds, “For direct printing, obviously the best quality is produced when the type of coating used on the fabric is designed for the ink set chosen, and the material is properly profiled with adequate ink limits. A high thread count, fine-weave type of material will produce the best quality.”
Sullivan explains that heat-setting equipment has a major impact on the ability to control color. “You have to control the temperature, and it must be controlled evenly across the entire surface of the fabric. Customers must be prepared to learn this extra set of variables that goes along with the printing process,” he says.
Image durability, or lifespan of the printed fabrics, depends on the end use. Indoor applications, such as trade-show graphics, banners, retail P-O-P displays, and home furnishings (curtains, upholstery) will yield a longer life, due to the fabric’s lack of exposure to UV rays. Curtains are an exception, as they are exposed to light more than other indoor products. Outdoor applications, on the other hand, are exposed to UV rays and other outdoor elements that may affect the vibrancy of fabric graphics—and some areas have harsher weather elements than others. For example, Labella says that an image printed onto polyester fabric and displayed outdoors in Florida will have a lifespan of six to 12 months, with ink beginning to show visible signs of fading at approximately eight to 10 months.
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